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Internet

Standards body wants browsers up to par

The co-founder and group leader of the Web Standards Project, or WaSP, says he's fed up with people who cruise the Internet using outdated browsers.

    Jeffrey Zeldman wants a 5.0 world.

    The co-founder and group leader of the Web Standards Project, or WaSP, says he's fed up with people who cruise the Internet using outdated browsers.

    It's bad enough that they're missing out on the latest and greatest in Web design, which won't work with older versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer or AOL Time Warner's Netscape. What's worse, they're holding up the future for everyone else, he says.

    "It's like we're television programmers who still use black and white because not everybody has a color television set," he gripes.

    Standards-compliant Web pages can recognize when people using an older browser version drop by and ask whether they'd like to upgrade. The process is free for the most popular browsers, but can take some time if someone tries to download the newest version from the Internet over a slow dial-up connection.

    IE 5, Netscape 6 and Opera 5 all support the new standards, called HTML 4, CSS-1, ECMAScript and DOM.

    Yet developers continue to write incompatible Netscape 4 and IE 4-specific code because many visitors are using such older browsers. Zeldman estimates a quarter of 320 million Web site visitors worldwide use nonstandard-compliant browsers.

    Recently, Zeldman updated his Web site to make it standards compliant, meaning those with old browsers who visit it will be told to upgrade.

    "This is radical," he said in a statement, acknowledging that not every Internet business can participate in the initiative. Yahoo, for instance, can't afford to risk alienating visitors. "We recognize that many sites are in that position. Our hope is that if enough sites are willing to take the plunge, the typical 18-month user cycle will be drastically shortened, and a Web that works for all will no longer be something we just talk about."

    WaSP has created a browser upgrade page for users at its Web site. The page also provides tips for developers who wish to participate in the initiative.

    "It won't be hurting those users" of older browsers, Zeldman said. "The pages just won't be pretty."